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Rethinking Space & Landscape

July 22, 2015

It has been some time since I posted an update. Since my last teaching semester (for the foreseeable future, anyway!) ended in May, I have been diving into chapter three, tackling the tedious work of assembling the most useful sources and evidence before attempting to build a narrative out of them. Certainly not my favorite part of writing, but at least that dreary part is done and I can move on. I’ve decided to devote the next four weeks or so before Baby no. 2 arrives to filling in gaps in my scholarship from the secondary literature – a necessary piece of the puzzle, and long-overdue. Also not my favorite part of writing history, but, sometimes, reading the work of others leads to fantastically productive, creative tangents that completely reshape my own project. Today’s reading, Andy Wood’s fascinating The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of the Past in Early Modern England (read it! you’ll like it!) is one of those works; today, it led me to a potential reorganization of my entire project.

From the start, I’ve wanted to write a dissertation that marries space and landscape theory with medieval record sources; I’ve wanted to tell the story, through a series of case studies of specific Dublin locales, of how rival authorities “governed” death and dying in colonial Ireland (specifically, the reign of  Edward I, 1272-1307). Now that I’m deep into my dissertation (two complete chapters), I’m discovering that a spatial perspective may not be the most useful approach to organizing my work; sure, space, landscape, and territoriality are present in the sources, but they seem to be tangential factors in a more expansive story that needs to be told. Andy Wood’s study, focused on lex loci, or legally binding local custom, has made me rethink this spatial perspective as the sole organizing framework of my project. Instead, my dissertation is turning into a story of intersections between a number of factors that shaped death and dying in medieval Ireland: custom, place, memory, literacy, ethnicity, politics, loyalty, territoriality, and civic identity. Studies of Dublin’s public spaces still have a place in this project, but refocusing on these various intersections will produce a more authentic, and I hope more readable, story of a specific chapter in Ireland’s past. Huzzah for progress!

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